Hello and welcome to our weekly intelligence briefing for boards, where we help directors keep up to speed on the macro trends affecting businesses across the world, and corporate governance news.

We hope you enjoy it and, as always, you can find the latest stories and resources on FT.com/Board.

Each day FT Leader writers on the Editorial Board meet to discuss the topics to be considered for leader columns. Here are the issues that dominated this week:

It is time to reboot Joe Biden. The US president is suffering from an increasingly widespread view that he is stagnating. But he could yet rebound if he brings in stronger, more experienced advisers. "Biden is now dangerously close to being indelibly seen as a weak leader. A strong one has the capacity to correct course and be ruthless," the editorial board concluded.

The Federal Reserve, as well as spooking markets with its ever more hawkish rhetoric, has also finally demonstrated that it is taking the prospect of digital central bank currencies seriously. The editorial board welcomed that development, and the Fed's keenness to consult, rather than rush to conclusions. However, "the world's most important central bank cannot remain a laggard forever".

After a number of passes at the Boris Johnson farrago, including a conclusion last week that "his time is up", leader writers have been waiting to opine again on the fate of the prime minister until the Sue Gray probe of "partygate" concludes. There may also be a leader to write on the role of the police. Both will deserve trenchant comment.


Inflation dominated the economic outlook this week, with all eyes on yesterday’s Fed meeting. In the ensuing press conference, Jay Powell struck a hawkish tone.

The US central bank chair all but confirmed the first rate raise would happen in March and did not rule out a number of aggressive rate increases. When asked if the Fed could raise rates at every subsequent meeting this year, he said the bank would be “humble and nimble” and “guided by the data”.

Markets were volatile both in the run-up to, and after, the meeting. Shares across Europe and Asia Pacific dropped this morning, following overnight declines on Wall Street, though the FTSE100 remained steady.

But rather than the speed of tapering or the timing of rate increases, the Fed’s “critical policy error” may be the  “consequences of discretionary policy on the financial markets”, argues philanthropist, investor and economist John Hussman.

“By relentlessly depriving investors of risk-free return, the Fed has spawned an all-asset speculative bubble that may now leave investors with little but return-free risk,” he writes.

Elsewhere investors continue to agitate. JPMorgan, the biggest lender to fossil fuel businesses, is fighting four shareholder petitions related to climate change at the SEC, including one filed by a group of Catholics nuns.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Seven & i Holdings, which owns 7-Eleven convenience store brand, came under pressure to split. Investors are frustrated about the company’s “outdated governance structure” and poor stock performance.

And share price proved to be a pinch point at Peloton. Activist investor Blackwells Capital urged the company to sack the chief executive John Foley and explore a potential sale after its stock collapsed. In a letter to the board, Jason Aintabi, chief investment officer at Blackwells, wrote: “The company has gotten too big, too complex and too damaged for Mr Foley to lead it.”

Nor did things get easier for Unilever chief executive Alan Jope. On Tuesday, the company announced plans to cull about 1,500 management roles globally. Job cuts are part of a restructuring that will split Unilever into five business groups, to try to improve growth.

The timing was no coincidence: it followed Unilever’s failed bid for GSK’s consumer health unit and revelations that Nelson Peltz’s activist hedge fund Trian Partners had built a stake in the company.

But there are cases where an activist investor attack is no bad thing, writes chief business commentator Brooke Masters. “Their demands can spur self-satisfied executives to action, pressure boards into dealing with incompetent managers and question poorly thought out mergers and acquisitions.”

UK businesses will be on alert for increased investor discontent as a report by funds group Link found that dividend payouts are set to drop in 2022. While many companies may up dividends, there is unlikely to be a repeat of the big one-one payments seen last year.

And UK companies face a further conundrum too: how much price rises can be passed on to customers. “Input costs have been followed by higher wage expectations and taken together with energy prices, something has to give,” said CBI director-general Tony Danker.

And finally, the incoming chair of the FRC, City veteran Sir Jan du Plessis, did not mince his words when he committed to overhauling the UK’s accounting watchdog within three months.

“The governance situation at the FRC is in a pretty poor state,” du Plessis told MPs.“They haven’t had a permanent chair for goodness knows how long. They’ve got [only] three non-executive directors. It’s really, really not a way to run the regulator that should be setting the tone for the whole of British business.”


There’s been plenty of food for thought around the future of work this week.

Citigroup announced plans to revamp its London skyscraper to a tune of more than £100m. The bank described the move as “a real commitment to the city” and the future of the office.  

And if you had just got your head around hybrid working, it is now time to consider the four-day working week.

“I suspect it will not be long before the four-day week begins to canter rather than creep,” writes business columnist Pilita Clark. “... Because younger managers are a lot more interested in the idea than the older leaders they are on track to replace.”

If this has you thinking about the future of work, there’s an interesting report on trends over the coming year from consultants Korn Ferry.

Don’t forget, there are plenty more resources on our online hub FT.com/Board.
Global Integrity Report 2022 (Report from EY)
Strategies of change (Insights from the BCG Henderson Institute)


At today’s event, Global Economic Outlook 2022, Sir Howard Davies, chairman of Natwest Group, will explore the trends impacting the global economy in the coming year.

How will new variants of Covid-19 impact the global economic recovery? How big is the inflation risk in the short- and medium-term? How will these challenges affect the prospects for global trade? 

Join the conversation today at 16.30 GMT. Register here.


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